She was in her early thirties, she wore the fuck out of a leather jacket like it was an Olympic event and she was covered in tattoos with double sleeves stretching right down to her inked up knuckles, in short, she was right up my alley. Even better, geographically she was right up the street.
We’d matched on Tinder that night and by some chance she was downing Whiskey in a bar right down the block from the dinner party I was attending with mates in Brooklyn. Fate works in mysterious ways, sometimes the hand of fate, or maybe it’s the index finger, swipes two people together and just like that I was sitting on a bar stool, awaiting the arrival of my next potential Tinderella, Tess*.
After a few minutes of waiting, long enough to really start to savour that whiskey bar scent of good liquor and bad decisions, a woman arrived. She was short, with flaming red hair and looked nothing like the Tinder picture. She walked past and did a double take or two (I suppose that makes it a quadruple take.) She approached me gingerly, her eyes wide with cautious apprehension like I might spoil the ending of her favourite film at any moment, and said quietly “are you Alex…?”.
I nodded and she seemed to relax, going on to add “Oh my God you’re here alone? Tess thought you’d be here with your friends!”. I paused for a moment, wondering what part of my very recently sent text along the lines of “looking forward to our date, my mates are heading home but I’m staying out to see you” might have given her the exact opposite impression. “Really? Because I was pretty clear this was a one on one date” I added dryly, thinking she’d just not been impressed with how I looked in real life and done the classic last minute switcheroo.
“I’ll bring her over” this mystery red head replied, before melting away like red cheese in the hot sun.
She returned with Tess and another of their mates and over the next 15 minutes a few things became abundantly clear to me. Tess had NOT assumed I would bring mates, this was a lie. Tess had SEVERE social anxiety and that was never mentioned. Her friends go EVERYWHERE with her to make sure she does not curl into a ball and freak out, which apparently happens if she gets overwhelmed. The tattoos, the leather jackets, the tinder flirting, were all covers for a woman who was so terrified of social interaction that she could not even speak to me.
I only wish that was hyperbole. She couldn’t make eye contact with me. She could not string together more than a few words and when I did try and take the verbal reins and said something simple about how I really liked New York in the short time I’d spent there she told me “No, I don’t like what you’re saying, don’t say that."
So there we were. Not quite an odd couple, as there were 4 of us on this Tinder date, sitting in a booth in what had become a rip roaring conversation. No, Tess hadn’t found her inner voice. This woman, who could pass as a pin up model any day of the week, was staring into her drink like a psychic stares into tea leaves. Instead, the conversation came from her flame haired mate and equally flaming gay best friend, both of whom were actually great company.
Tess’s girlfriend hadn’t spoken to her Mum for many years, went to acting school and wanted to go to South America while her gay best friend worked in IT and thought Brooklyn wasn’t as cool as everyone keeps saying. We chatted for a while about life, love and the universe and they apologised on Tess’s behalf for the date. It seemed she had truly wanted to come out, had hoped to have a little more control over her anxiety that day but upon seeing me it kind of fell to pieces. To this day I don’t know if that’s a compliment or not.
After a solid hour of essentially being on a date with two strangers I stood up to leave. There was to be no romance on this night and I thanked Tess for giving it a shot. Suddenly, a spark of life! She grabbed my arm and asked me to stay. What sorcery was this? It felt like the start of a new direction for the night and I felt a surge of energy and excitement to stay and learn about this silent, beautiful, mysterious woman.
We pulled up seats at the bar and she quietly introduced me to the bartender. A burly man, possibly half bear (though I’m not sure which half) his bushy beard was both tidy Brooklyn hipster and yet wildly unkempt at the same time. A dichotomy of a man in many ways. He and my date had known each other for years, and she seemed comfortable in his presence, and for a woman with such nerves that could only be a good thing.
After 30 more minutes of almost dead silence and me being told my topics of conversation were still wrong I stood up to go to the bathroom. When I went to sit down again she was making out with the Bartender.
Once she saw I’d seen her, Tess ran out the front door sobbing, the Bartender stormed off and her mates chased her outside to console her. As I got into a waiting taxi, which pulled away past Tess who was curled into a ball on the street, and having wasted a solid 4 hours of my night (and indeed life) I’d seen the powerful paralysis of social anxiety first hand and I really only had one thought on my mind…I really hope Tessa’s mate works things out with her Mum.
Despite the fact this was probably the worst date I’ve ever been on, I did feel sympathy for Tess as her condition must be tough. I hope one day she finds her inner voice, or at least someone who will sit in comfortable silence with her. But for me, the quest for my Tinderella went on…
*Not her real name
Alexander Porter is a 27 year old with a degree from Sydney University. Getting it in a frame is on his 30 before Thirty list. He has a Back to the Future tattoo and is available for party hire. When Alex isn't writing he is watching his beloved St George Dragons let him down, drinking flavoured milk and planning new travel adventures. You can follow him on instagram @alexander_le_great